Nelsan Ellis

Recent Role:

Lafayette Reynolds on True Blood


Harvey, Illinois, USA

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  • Biography
  • Nelsan Ellis is an American film, television, and stage actor and award-winning playwright who is best known as the effeminate yet macho Lafayette Reynolds, a short-order cook at Merlotte's diner on True Blood. He was born at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Illinois but moved to Bessemer, Alabama when he was six to live with his mom after his parents' divorce. At 14, he lived with his aunt, Pat Thompson, and near where his father, Tommy Thompson, stayed in Dolton, Illinois. He attended Thornridge High School, where his teachers Bill Kirksey and Tim Sweeney, then chair of the school's fine arts department, encouraged him to try out theater acting. Ellis was a high school athlete and had no intention of being an actor, but was persuaded by his teachers during freshman year to portray Junie, a major role, in the play The Colored Museum. Nelsan got hooked and continued towards pursuing an acting profession. After he graduated in 1997, Kirksey still supported him and would send him money at college. Ellis eventually made it to Juilliard where he wrote his award-winning play UGLy, "a story of unconditional love and how it masks a multitude of sins". Apart from theater work for more than seven years, he also appeared in a short drama film called Lost in 2002. In 2005, Nelsan made his television debut alongside Kenneth Branagh and Cynthia Nixon in the made-for-TV biopic of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Warm Springs. That same year, he was cast as a series regular to play Carter Howard in the Fox crime drama The Inside, which unfortunately only aired 13 episodes. He has also made guest appearances on Veronica Mars and Without a Trace. In 2008, Ellis was called on for another series regular role as Lafayette, a flamboyant gay man who peddles V-blood on Alan Ball's gripping vampire drama True Blood.moreless

    Birth Name:

    Nelsan Narie Ellis



    Birth Place:

    Harvey, Illinois, USA

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  • Quotes (9)

    • Nelsan Ellis: Violence, in reality, is strikingly different than from what you do on the set. I can walk down the street and see someone with that energy. They don't have to be physical at that moment, but if I see that same look I saw in people when I was growing up, that will shake me a little bit.

    • Nelsan Ellis: (on performing in plays during high school) It was my first experience being at a school where you had teenage black men who were serious about stuff, and you had these teachers who cared about the students and paid attention. I was, like: 'I'll do this because people seem to be serious.' My years at Thornridge probably changed the course of my life.

    • Nelsan Ellis: (on working with his "The Soloist" co-star) Robert Downey Jr., I fell in love with the man. He's – I mean, my goodness, he's an extraordinary actor, and he's an extraordinary person. 'Cuz I was fairly new then, in movies, and he took me under his wing. And every step of the way he was showing me a better way to do things. And I thought that was marvelous of him. 'Cuz you know, when you work with mega-celebrities, they don't typically have time to - to really (laughs) deal with anybody, you know what I'm saying?

    • Nelsan Ellis: (about playing Lafayette on "True Blood") It's been a learning experience. I'm pretty shy and a lot of times introverted. The first day of shooting, Alan [Ball] said, ''s a theater! Whenever the camera comes over there I want Lafayette to put on a play.'

    • Nelsan Ellis: (about his influence in portraying Lafayette on "True Blood") My mother is a strong inspiration. The base core of Lafayette is my mother. My mother is a sexual creature and I wanted to make him like sex and bleed sex. Not mannerisms, just the way she operated as a sexual creature.

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    Trivia (19)

    • In 2008, Nelsan made his feature film debut in The Express as Will Davis, Jr., the same-aged uncle of Ernie Davis (played by Rob Brown), the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.

    • Growing up in a violent largely poor suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, Nelsan's mom was once shot. His father, divorced from his mother, was working for a grocery distributor and living in Dolton, Illinois.

    • Playing Lafayette Reynolds on True Blood was his first-ever portrayal of a gay character.

    • Before auditioning for the series True Blood, Ellis read seven books from Charlaine Harris' The Southern Vampire Mysteries book series, from which the show was based.

    • Nelsan comes from a Christian background.

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